Keep History Alive

Paul Matthews is a man who loves history. He practically accosts any person who steps through the door of his Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, offering to take them on a personal guided tour. "People think it's an African-American museum," the former Vietnam vet says. "No, no, no, no. It's an American history museum." He believes that no history should be forgotten, and points out that about 30 percent of the museum attendees are of other ethnicities.

Despite the museum's name, the exhibits cover a range of black military service from the Revolutionary War to Colin Powell, whose picture appears in many displays. For their part, the Buffalo Soldiers played a prominent role policing West Texas.

"If you were pinned down by a bunch of robbers between El Paso and San Antonio," Matthews is fond of asking visitors, "who would come and save you: the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry, or John Wayne?" During reconstruction, Southerners didn't take kindly to armed former slaves keeping order, so most black soldiers were sent out West, where they were the main law-keepers.

As a pharmaceutical company executive in charge of supplying the U.S. armed forces, Matthews got the chance to tour museums on bases all over Europe and the States and study how they do things. After four decades of collecting pieces of military history, his wife finally told him he had to find a place to put it. So he sank $35,000 of his own money into setting up the museum, building his collection with the help of donated money and memorabilia. The museum has been open for a year now, and Matthews is looking to retire and run it full time.

He's already gotten the approval of a pretty high authority. The manager of African-American displays at the Smithsonian recently took a tour of the museum and said he was impressed with Matthews's organization.

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Dylan Otto Krider